Bipartisanship? In Your Dreams!

Dr. Malcolm Cross

House Republicans and especially Speaker Mike Johnson have been getting bad press for their failure to cooperate with congressional Democrats and support legislation to reduce illegal immigration and grant more aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.  Left unsaid is the fact that congressional Republicans who cooperate with Democrats are likely to be punished by two groups:  MAGA Republicans—and the Democrats themselves.

The bipartisan drive to punish Republicans seeking a bipartisan approach to problem solving was most notably on display with the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last year.  A MAGA Republican himself, he nonetheless worked with House Democrats to fashion and pass a federal budget continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown.  Irate extreme right-wing House Republicans, angered at McCarthy’s bipartisan approach to keeping the government open, supported a “motion to vacate the chair” introduced by Congressman Matt Gaetz.  Only 8 Republican representatives voted for it, but ALL Democrats voted for it as well and thereby removed McCarthy.  That’s how the Democrats “rewarded” McCarthy for his attempts at cooperation.

Any Republican in Congress who seeks to work with Democrats to solve problems is liable to incur the fury of MAGA Republican voters and draw a primary opponent.  For example, of the 10 Republican congressmen who voted to impeach former President Trump following the 1/6/21 riot on Capitol Hill, only 2 were reelected in 2022.  Everyone else either retired rather than face MAGA wrath, or were defeated by Trump supporters in their primaries.  The most egregious case was that of Michigan congressman Peter Meijer, who was defeated for renomination by a Trump supporter whose candidacy was boosted by Democratic-funded campaign commercials.  In the general election, he lost the GOP-held seat to a Democrat.  Such was his reward for supporting the Democrats’ efforts to impeach Trump.

Which was, of course, what the Democrats wanted in the first place.  They reasoned, no doubt correctly, that a renominated Meijer had a better chance of keeping the seat, so they worked in the primary to replace him with a Trump supporter whom the Democrats could more easily defeat in the general election.  As I described in my column of 8/8/22, this gambit was part of a larger strategy by which the Democrats were helping weak MAGA Republicans win nominations in the hope and expectation that those who were nominated with Democratic help were more likely to lose to their Democratic opponents in the general election, and their hopes and expectations were realized.

It’s easy to dismiss Democratic shenanigans as simple political gamesmanship.  To be certain, the Democrats have broken no laws.  And the Democrats are under no legal obligation to help Republicans nominate strong candidates for office or save Republican congressional leaders from the wrath of their disillusioned supporters.  The elections of U. S. House Speakers are almost always by party-line votes.  To the Democratic representatives who joined with Matt Gaetz and his fellow Republican insurgents, the fact that McCarthy was a Republican far outweighed the fact that he was trying to take a bipartisan approach to funding the federal government.  Should Matt Gaetz or any other Republican call for a vote to remove Mike Johnson from the speakership, Democrats will almost certainly vote unanimously in support of the motion to vacate as well.  And no Republican is likely to vote for a Democratic House speaker either.

However, it is fundamentally hypocritical for Democrats or anyone else to complain of a lack of bipartisan cooperation in today’s House of Representatives.  Whoever works to purge either the Democratic or the Republican Party of officials seeking to find bipartisan solutions to public policy problems has no right to complain when the purges are successful and bipartisanship is abandoned. 

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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